Peggy F. Drexler

(WOMENSENEWS)–Much to our dismay and even disgust, in Palestine, the women whose sons have strapped bombs to their bodies to kill themselves and Israelis are revered and remunerated as the mothers of martyrs.

We find this incomprehensible. Mothers are supposed give life to their children, not take it away. By their support of murder, we see these mothers as abusing the authority of maternity. It is one thing to wring yourmaternal hands and send your soldier-son off to war for your country, hoping he’ll come back alive, having killed his share of enemy soldiers. But it is another thing to send off your son to willfully kill himself and noncombatant civilians, including mothers and children, and then praise him for it–which is the story the world knows about the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers.

“I was very happy when I heard,” said the wife of Bashir al-Masawabi, the mother of suicide bomber Ismail al-Masawabi, in an interview with Joseph Lelyveld, former managing editor of The New York Times for a piece in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Speaking from the relatively roomy flat she had just moved into, courtesy of Hamas, the radical Palestinian group that recruited Ismail, she added, “To be a martyr, that’s something very few people can do it. I prayed to thank God.”

Ismail’s mother appeared remarkably absent of grief. “In the Koran it’s said that a martyr does not die,” she stated. “I know my son is close to me. It is our belief.”

According to Dr. Asraf Zahedi, a sociologist who specializes in Islam, women like Ismail’s mother “see their role as producers, the carrier of uprising or revolution when it comes to the idea of martyrdom. Women are supposed to be supporters of martyrdom–carrying on when martyrdom actually happens–keeping a brave face.”

How much does that brave face cost them? And what is beneath it?

Mothers Find Succor at First from Community’s Praise

These mothers may be confused, but they are not monsters as the many Western and Israeli media would like us to believe. As a research psychologist who has studied mothers and sons for years, I think it’s important to withhold judgment on what we can too easily dismiss as a perversion of motherhood.

Doctors treating these women have noted an increase in psychosomatic problems, stomach disorders, dizziness and a loss of appetite. According to Iyad Sarraj, a Palestinian psychologist who is an expert on suicide attacks, the mothers of suicide bombers at first find succor and support from their communities’ approbation. However, “six months later you see nothing but grief.”

Certainly, Palestinian mothers are shaped by their people’s vehement national pride and fierce religious promise of paradise. In such an economically and socially devastated region, mothers can extol their children for winning the compensation of martyrdom. And if your people lack means of democratic power and protest–particularly true if you are a woman, and poor–then suicide and the pledge of paradise might not seem like such a bad bargain for you and your child.

As a Jew who supports Israel, I deplore suicide bombings. Yet as a research psychologist who has studied how women raise their sons, and as the mother of a son, I know that the mothers of suicide bombers are not monsters–even though Western media portrays them that way. The absence of hope among Palestinians, combined with religious fervor and political ideals, has created a new breed of mothers who are intensely conflicted. The Palestinian mother whose son commits a suicide is exalted at the same moment she is cast into the abyss. The death of her son can feel like the fulfillment of fate, a destiny that corroborates the absence of worldly hope. Only when we understand their conflicts–between their love for their children and their obligation to their people and to their perception of justice–will we be able to combat the bombings themselves. Only then will we give mothers everywhere less reason to grieve.

Peggy F. Drexler, Ph.D. is an affiliated scholar at Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She has published her work in journals such as the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Gender and Psychoanalysis, In The Family and in media publications including the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the San Francisco Examiner.

For more information:

The New York Times Magazine–
“All Suicide Bombers Are Not Alike”:

Yahoo News — Mideast Conflict:

For more information:

East African Standard–“The new Cabinet”:

Ten Kenyan Women Appointed to Cabinet, Other Senior Posts in New Government

NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS)–Three women were sworn in as Cabinet ministers and three others as assistant ministers here Monday following appointments by Kenya’s new president, Mwai Kabaki. In a major boost for women’s empowerment, four additional women were also made permanent secretaries–that is, high-ranking presidential advisors.

“We can see the new president has started including women in government. This is quite encouraging,” said Beth Mugo, a new assistant minister for tourism and information. “We hope to gradually achieve the one-third women representation we have been crusading for.”

Charity Ngilu, a 51-year-old mother of three who began her professional life as a secretary, will head the Ministry of Health. She is expected to accelerate the provision of health care for women, who make up 52 percent of Kenyans.

The ministry of water resources will be headed by Martha Karua, a 45-year-old mother of two. Karua hopes to bring water sources closer to women, many of whom spend close to six hours each day fetching potable water.

A first-timer in Parliament, Linah Jebii Kilimo, 39 and a mother of five, is state minister in the Office of the Vice President. A banker for 12 years and an ardent crusader against female genital mutilation and other abuses against women, Kilimo was pulled out of school as a girl to baby-sit her niece before completing her education.

Professor Wangari Maathai, an environmental activist, was appointed an assistant in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife. Betty Tett, a sound engineer and assistant minister of local government, was nominated to Parliament.

“We have very competent, committed and tough women who are professionals in their own right and have proven abilities,” said Maria Nzomo, professor of political science and international studies at the University of Nairobi.

— Frederick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.